Train Travel with a Toddler

Yesterday we made the long journey from Birmingham to Cornwall to visit family. We have done this journey a few times before, mainly when my little girl was a baby, a time when she didn’t move too much and was able to quietly sit, or sleep on my lap for hours on end whilst other passengers cooed over her cuteness and dribbly smiles.

My daughter is now heading towards 4 years old in the new year and can only be described as a live wire! She moves, she jumps, she sings whenever and wherever she wants to, as loud as she wants to! She has the energy of a flea and the attention span of a typical 3 year old, always looking for the next thrill and never wanting to sit still for too long!

So I have to admit I had not really been looking forward to this journey at all this time. 6-7 hours over three trains with a toddler confined to one space is not the ideal fr me or the other passengers! However, it actually went ok. I find to travel with children you have to learn lessons as you make mistakes. And I made lots of mistakes previously. Something I was determined not to repeat again. The last time we made this journey in June this year, it was a nightmare. It was the first time since she was tiny that I had travelled by train this far with her and I got it all wrong. I assumed that because I had booked my trains with connections, this meant that I would be guaranteed to get where I need on time. BIG MISTAKE.


PREVIOUS ERROR: My train was delayed but I actually managed to get the earlier one by ten minutes from my town to Birmingham. Even by taking this early positive step, the train then sat on the tracks outside of Birmingham New Street for 15 minutes waiting for a signaling error to be fixed or something, meaning I then had to rush to my main train. We had to rush, bags, toddler and all, down the escalators, where at the bottom she fell and came down arms and legs spread on her stomach at the bottom! I couldn’t comfort her as the doors were just shutting on the platform , we made it with about a second to spare, having to get on at the wrong carriage and drag a crying child and our cases through about 3 carriages to get to ours.

LESSON LEARNED: This time I was having none of that rubbish! You can’t rely on delays not occurring, so I got my first train an hour earlier, meaning by the time we got to Birmingham we even had time for a sausage sandwich and a hot chocolate. We had loads of time on the platform and without the rush were able to get in the carriage we needed at the right end. Such a relief this time!


PREVIOUS ERROR: In june, I booked a taxi for 8am the following morning. It was confirmed. 8am came and went. No taxi. No contact. I called and was told a booking for first thing in the morning isn’t guaranteed. I am sure this is just my local rubbish company. I had to book with another firm at short notice which in itself nearly made me miss my first train.

LESSON LEARNED: This time, I said no taxis. Simple. Waiting on the trains is bad enough without stressing about even getting to the station!


PREVIOUS ERROR: Thinking a good breakfast and a packed sandwich was enough to keep a toddler interested.

LESSON LEARNED: Kids like choice. This time I packed picnic bits like fruit, crisps, flapjacks, bread sticks, cheese…nibbly bits. It kept her snacking, filled her up and filled ten minutes for me on the journey every time she wanted a good rummage and little personal picnic, laying it all out and taking her pick.


PREVIOUS ERROR: I had hoped that looking out of the window at passing sheep and a few pens and paper might suffice. Wrong!

LESSON LEARNED: This time I was prepared. Magazine. Pens. Paper. Games on phone. Film to watch. She still spent half of the journey moaning and restless but I reckon it saved me about 2 hours of potential additional strops being prepared with activities.


PREVIOUS ERROR: I used to be one of those people, pre-child, who would purposely book the quiet coach on the train so that I could avoid noisy children when I was travelling alone and wanted to bury my head into a good book. It is true that until you have kids you have no empathy for what the parent is going through in trying to travel long distances with children on the train when they don’t have an alternative option. After having her, I became very aware that I needed to try to keep her as quiet as possible incase the other passengers got annoyed.

LESSON LEARNED: In want of better words, screw em! Yes you can be considerate, which I am, but there is no way she is going to be quiet for a 6 hour journey. There is also no way she is going to stay in one spot for that long. If they need to walk up the aisle a little staying close to your seat, let them. If they need to stand up and look out fo the window at the sea as it passes by, let them. Do what you need to survive that ordeal!


For the reasons I said above, people book this for a reason and you need to be honest with yourself that your kid is NOT going to comply to the quiet rule on a journey of any length.


I have always done this as kids need it all the time. However, you then have to put up with people by your seat constantly, or the effects of an unkept and dirty toilet, such as the smell, wafting past you every time the doors are opened. I wont be putting this one down as a priority choice next time! The toilet was in a right state on our journey down, so much so I carried her in and hovered her over the seat. The things we have to do 😊.


One of my biggest concerns about travelling alone is managing my child with all my bags, over big platform gaps and between stations! I am instantly nervous about these things before they happen. I have been touched by the amount of people (mostly business looking men on their way to work) offering to carry my cases between trains, reaching out and helping my little one onto the train or just offering their seat so we don’t have to stand. I didn’t struggle or have to ask for help once on this journey, it was simply given or offered, which I thanked or accepted gratefully. There are still some chivalrous people around it seems!

Those are my 8 rules to travelling with a little one. I hope it helps at least one person feel a bit better about a long journey ahead! My girl actually had a 30 minute nap at the end of the journey which was well timed to take stock of making sure I had everything in order to get off. Sometimes they do surprise you 😉.I will be prepared for the return journey in a few weeks! x